Is the Medium Still the Message?

Back in 1450, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, and people thought it changed communication forever. It did until 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone turned communication on its head. But then in 1906 the first radio program was broadcast, and communication would never be the same. And so on to today, when social media is believed to have changed forever how we communicate.

As a corollary, Marshall McLuhan upset the status quo in 1964 by suggesting that “the medium is the message.” He believed that how  information was delivered was at least as important as the information itself, and he may still be onto something. While social media is a very powerful medium for advancing a message, it is just one more device in the communicator’s toolbox and should be valued that way.

IHOP, the chain of breakfast diners, tweeted and posted to its Facebook page in June 2018 that it was flipping the lowercase "p" in its logo into a "b”, which generated great curiosity for the chain’s burgers beyond just its pancakes. In this case, was social media more effective than a conventional announcement? Probably so.

But when Apple announced its most recent quarterly earnings, the SEC’s strict rules did not allow for posting the news through Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, or any other popular social media platform. Likewise, if a private company wants to tell its 137 employees about its new vacation policy, a town hall meeting followed by a list of FAQs might be the way to go.

The basics remain the same: choose the medium or communications channel that is the best method for reaching your target audience. In some cases working with the editor of a monthly magazine to place an article that features your company may be every bit as valuable as posting a blog entry or sending a series of tweets.

Take advantage of the latest innovation, but don’t rule out its predecessors.      Back >